The forgotten man of the 2010 NBA offseason stands 6’11", 265 pounds.
In an era where over half the league’s teams don’t feature a traditional center, it’s easy to forget that the road to a championship still runs through the paint.
Tim Duncan and Shaq won every championship between 1999 and 2007, except in 2004, when Shaq’s Lakers were defeated by the Pistons.
Since Jordan’s retirement, no team except those Pistons has won an NBA championship without an All-Star seven-footer.
And they had the 6’11" Rasheed Wallace and the 6’9" four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace to handle interior defense.
Scoring from the post is inherently more valuable than scoring from the perimeter. A post player like Dwight Howard starts his move in the paint, while wing players have to battle through the entire defense to get into the lane.
Defensively, a dominant big man is even more important. A shot-blocking center not only protects the rim, but he also covers up the weaknesses of the rest of the team.
In 2009, the Magic could afford reaping the advantages of playing a defensive sieve like Hedo Turkoglu at the 3, because Howard had his back whenever his man beat him off the dribble.
Howard, with his single-handed ability to make the Magic a dominant defensive team, looms as the biggest threat in the East to the Miami Dream Team.
The vast majority of NBA centers just cannot handle his strength and athleticism in the post; as the Cavs found out in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, there’s no defense for a guy who can muscle your entire team to the front of the rim and dunk on them.
Over his career, whenever Howard has faced an elite defensive center, someone with the strength and technique to make him rely on his actual fundamental skills, the soft underbelly of his underdeveloped post game has been exposed.
And the Magic, without another reliable shot-creator, and whose offensive system is based around double-teams on Howard to free up open looks for their three-point shooters, have been defeated.
In 2007 and 2008, it was Rasheed Wallace and the Pistons.
In 2009, Howard’s Magic struggled far more against an undermanned Celtics team that featured Kendrick Perkins than they did against LeBron’s 66-win Cavs juggernaut.
The 2010 Celtics, featuring both Perkins and Wallace, easily raced out to a 3-0 lead and embarrassed Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But this year, neither of his nemeses, Wallace (through retirement) and Perkins (through injury), figures to be much of a factor in the playoffs.
And absolutely no one on the Heat can handle Howard on the inside—not the sinewy Bosh, not the undersized Haslem, and certainly not Joel Anthony or Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Jeff Van Gundy said the new-look Heat may match the records of Jordan’s Bulls, the last team to win a title without an All-Star seven-footer. To buck the trend of the last decade, they might have to.
For further analysis of Howard's post game, check out http://getbuckets.fantake.com/2010/09/26/what-stands-in-miamis-way/